Prompted by Pfizer Inc’s lack of transparency in vaccine purchase contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Parliament’s COVI committee approved on Thursday the proposal to ban the company’s officials from the European Parliament.
The ban was voted with the majority of votes since all political groups- with the exception of the European People’s Party (EPP) and Renew Europe, which voted against it – voted in favor.
The Parliament’s COVI committee’s ban vote followed after the Green group filed a request led by French MEP Michèle Rivasi to deny access to the American pharmaceutical company’s representatives and its CEO Albert Bourla to the European Parliament, which could happen quite soon.
The European Union purchased COVID vaccines in bulk from several pharmaceutical companies – including US pharma giant Pfizer/BioNTech – in the early months of the COVID pandemic to deliver them to member states as quickly as possible, but Pfizer’s contracts have remained redacted ever since.
Kathleen Van Brempt, chair of the COVI committee, stressed in a tweet last December that the EP has a right to full transparency on the details of that spending and the preliminary negotiations that led to it.
Although European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told the EP’s special committee on COVID during a hearing in October that the purchase of COVID jabs during the pandemic has been a success story, describing it as a small European miracle, the reality was a bit more controversial than that.
Rumors emerged that Pfizer contracts pertaining to 1.8 billion vaccine doses were allegedly directly negotiated via private text messages between Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
After Bourla refused to meet with COVI MEPs both in October and in December, French MEP and COVI member Véronique Trillet-Lenoir commented that he deliberately did not come to avoid facing the controversies and explaining himself about the so-called SMS affair.
Previously on Monday, Pfizer remained vague about the text messages exchanged with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the opacity of its vaccine purchase contracts when faced with numerous questions from EU lawmakers, which was enough to raise the tension a notch.
The next step following the COVI vote is the opinion that should be given by the Conference of Committee Chairs (CPC), which needs to consider the duration of the exclusion, whether the sanction will apply to all Pfizer representatives or only to Bourla, or whether it is upheld at all.
Every Tuesday, CPC brings together all committee chairs during plenary sessions in Strasbourg. CPC’s opinion and the final decision are not expected for at least a month, according to a spokesperson for the Green group.